Thursday, June 11, 2009

Home!

Back home in NYC right now. . . as of a few hours ago I guess. Expect a call from one of us in the next few days if we like you; if you don't get a call, please please take the hint and don't embarass yoursleves grovelling for us to take you back into our fold. You're DONE! Later.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The trip north, south, north, and then south for good.

May was, well, interesting. We left the comforts of Accra behind, endured the 12 hour bus ride from Accra to Tamale, stayed in Tamale a night to recuperate, and then trotro'd it to Bolga and then on to Bongo. BUT, before we left Accra we bought a portable DVD player since, as many of you know, our laptop, may it rest in peace, is no longer fully with us but our "The Wire" and "Weeds" addiction would need feeding. But, as things go here in jolly ol' Ghana, the plug to the player "spoiled" after one charge (the night before we were leaving for Tamale). "No worries," we assured ourselves "it is only a 12V DC plug, how hard could it be to find one here?" Ah, 10 months in the country and yet still so naive! We scoured Tamale. Then we scoured Bolga. "Oh, they are finished," which does not necessarily mean that there were any to begin with and some guy bought the last one only minutes ago, for all we know they have been "finished" since the beginning of time. When we returned to our house in Bongo it was full of surprises (but still locked and safe, so none too horrible). First, our front porch looked like a goat latrine, piss and poop EVERYWHERE. I mean piles in some places. Then, we discover that someone used the plug that exists on the outside of our house and blew the fuse so now half of the house has no usable sockets (no more sleeping in the bedroom). The water was not running and, thankfully Mo spared me actually having to see it, but big red ants (we call them "latrine" ants because they hang around bathrooms and latrines) had made our toilet their new home. Mo said that the toilet was FULL of eggs and larvae. I was outside and all I heard was Mo going "Oh my god, oh my...I'm gonna puke this is so disgusting!...oh NO. WHERE IS THE RAID?!?!"

So, there we were up in Bongo with no work to do (the maps were not arriving in country for another 5 days) and suffering severe cases of Wire-withdrawal. After 3 days and both of us completing a book each, we decided to take a 10 hour bus ride down to Kumasi to meet the maps and the person bringing the maps there and say all of our Kumasi goodbyes so that we would not have to stop with all of our luggage when we make the last trip south.

The meetings in Kumasi went really well. I met with the Provost ("Dean") of engineering who was/is one of my "research contacts" here in Ghana and he was very impressed with all that we were able to accomplish in our 10 months here (yay us!). We met Deron, Lori and the boys in Kumasi as they were heading north to Burkina on vacation and then circling back south to stay with us one night in Bongo. It was nice, gave us that extra motivation to do some more touristy things in Kumasi. And (this is my bragging point) I was able to lead Lori through the 10% of the Kejeta market that I knew AND find the section/stalls that I was looking for (even though Mo says it was by mistake)! (I was impressed with myself even if you all aren't). Then, back on the bus for 8 hours followed by a 3 hour trotro ride all in one day back to Bolga, but this time with a variable voltage/plug converter box thing that was just about as large as our portable DVD player and a good pound heavier.... defeated the whole "portable" part, but it worked!!!

Handing out the maps to all of our contacts was extremely rewarding, it was the main purpose of the research. Some were neutral on the whole affair, but the majority were very thankful and, even more importantly, interested in my explaining the significance of what was represented. I had maps to go around (thanks to my mom and her laminating skillz) and most were enthusiastic to bring the results to their chiefs and local assemblymen. I also had a final meeting with the District Assembly Director where he actually called other employees to come hear what I had to say (which meant I had to explain my maps several times), which just made me feel amazing.

Then there was this one night while in the main room lying on my stomach with my feet dangling off the edge of our mattress on the floor watching The Wire, the sun had just set and since we can't turn on the overhead lights in the house at night because sooo many bugs find their way in as a result, we were in the dark, but had not yet placed the mosquito net around us. We were actually thinking that maybe we won't use the mosquito net anymore since it is really hot out. All of a sudden I feel something tickle my foot, but I just tap it and I don't feel it anymore. "Must be the mosquito net dangling over my leg, it must have brushed up against me," I tell myself. It happens again and again I bang my foot on the ground and again it goes away. The third time I feel it on my foot, then on my calf, then on my thigh before I jump up and knock it off. Now remember, it is dark, so all I see is a big shape scurrying across the mattress. I was figuring it was going to be a lizard, but now it is so big and moving like a bug that I am thinking a giant roach, but Mo finds the flashlight and it turns out to be the relative of the giant hairy orange spider that we trapped and threw outside! Now, completely creeped out, I go into what Mo describes as "flash dance" mode (but I could tell he was equally as creeped out since he promptly picked up the DVD player and we moved the operation into the room with a working overhead light. Not 15 minutes later, we see it (or another?) scurrying INTO the room and under the bed. After much noise making and strategic "flushing of the enemy", we get it out from under the bed (and spiders everywhere forgive us) slap a shoe on it. After careful inspection of the corpse, we see past the hairy legs to the large fangs and decide that mosquito nets are a necessity! (We actually have figured out what it is....here).

Then, after selling and giving away all that we could, we boarded our last bus "south" and settled in for a long ride. As luck has it, though, two hours into what amounted to a 15 hour ride, I fall ill (chills, headache, stomach ache, nausea) and start my "I will not vomit or poop myself" meditation. When we pulled into Kumasi (9 hours into the ride) (the first place with a "toilet" instead of just a "urinal" (yes, in the other stops there are only women "urinals" as well as men's)) I jump off the bus a roll of tp in one hand and my toilet fee in the other and run in the direction of the toilet wanting to make the most of this 5 minute stop...but...what?....the toilets are locked? Why? Because it is RAINING! "Yes."

Long story less long, eating solid food again, hanging out at Deron and Lori's and just relaxing our final days in Ghana in good company.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

One of our last posts...

We have received many emails asking why we haven't updated the blog in so long given that we are now in a position to be doing so daily (those emails are in my head, mind you. . . no real person gives two dookies about us updating this blog or not). Well, upon arriving in Accra, and the day before Katie was ready to hunker down for a 36hour work session, the OSX side of our computer froze. Then it beeped, then it exploded and now it lies somewhere in the MacBook shell, its remnants still smoldering. It was truly a sad few days in the House of Kdmoghana. Not only had our computer left us in the most serious of lurches, but our self worth was relegated to close to nil since our consumer culture dictates that what we buy is the quickest way to social acceptance. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that it has taken a while to come to terms with the fact that we had a Mac that burned to the ground and are now using its shell to run Windows XP (not even some obscure Linux distro!). We bought a Mac for its reliability, ruggedness (as much as a laptop can actually be rugged), and what it says when we're emailing at the coffee shop but ended up doing some of our most important work on the four-eyed, bug- and booger-eating Windows side. It's a good thing that no one really reads this blog for I'm sure if news of this gets out our hipster cards will surely be revoked and we'll have to learn all those damn programming languages to get into the defiant-to-a-fault open-source crowd. ANYWAY, most of our Mac stuff should be backed up on our hard drive, and if we don't have ALL of our photos, we should have most of them.

The good news is that despite having to put a suit on just to check our e-mail (Get it? Because we're using Windows just like all the other cubi-dorks in the world? No? Tough crowd.) Katie was able to finish her work. Since we can't upload any of our photos we'll post some maps in just a bit. But know this: while I am at most times as useless as a plate of hog jowls at a vegan pot luck, my extensive background in internetting (yes, it's a verb) proved much more useful than one would think (insert your own pornography joke here:_____). I saved the day on more than one occasion while Katie "Queen of Flipping Out at Everything" Alfredo sat quietly in the corner and allowed me to work my magic and DID NOT look over my shoulder for the entire time, soaking my shirt in tears. Um, yeah. Here's Katie.

Well, wouldn't you freak out if you worked really hard inputting data and such just to see it all beep and explode in front of your eye??? (M: No.) Right!?!?! (M: Wrong!) It's not like I can bring in our machine to the nearest Apple store and have my data recovered (or even access the data on our external hard drive since it is formatted for our Mac....hmmmm). But, despite all this, I have succeeded in processing just the necessary data now and will go through (or back through) the rest when I have a more reliable machine to work on. But....here is one of the maps





As you can see, Bongo has a lot of fluoride! Way more than was expected. The shading is just an interpolation of the data points. I sampled eight of the capped wells, none of which produced unusually high numbers, and so it is safe to say they are not tapping into any separate aquifer. So, this is just scratching the surface of all the information and data that we gathered, but I thought it would be nice to show you all (if anyone is still reading our blog that is) the fruits of our labor. In total we tested 286 wells (but visited more including the capped and newly drilled ones), all by bicycle, over the area. Now the difficulty is to bring these maps (I made one for each governance in the district) to the community members and try to explain why they have capped wells when other areas have higher levels of fluoride but still have access to their water. It should be interesting!

But, in case any of you are wondering when we are getting back, we now have our plane tickets and are leaving Ghana on June 11th! So soon! Our time is rapidly ending and we are dreaming of salads and fresh herbs! Yum. Being in Accra for April has been really fun and Deron and Lori (the other Fulbrighter family we are staying with) and their two boys Jasper and Dashiel are AWESOME. We went and visited the big dam on the Volta river in Akosombo, went bead shopping, and have eaten our weight in bananas and avocados and pineapples. It's been relaxing, well except for the whole computer failing part. We head back north to Bongo in a couple of days for the last stretch of work, and then we are done! It really has gone by quickly! We miss you all and hope to see everyone soon.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

So first I should start with an apology to our fans: sorry we have been delinquent with our posts. But here is a recap.

After Ai left, Mo and I headed back to Burkina Faso for a mini vacation, but I guess we needed a reminder about how tiring vacation can often be. In Ouaga we just hung out in the luxury (TV and half-working A/C) of our hotel and ate some great food. In the picture below (bottom center photo) you can see that we feasted on french bread, strawberries (yes, Burkina has a strawberry season!), olives, mangos, pears, local yogurt (our favorite), goat cheese (also locally made), and a huge bag each of cashews and sugar coated peanuts. We were in heaven. We went back to the good brick oven pizza place and had goat cheese pizza and beer (the SoBBra pic). Then, we decided to take the train from Ouga to Bobo since it was described as a "pleasant"ride and we thought it sounded all romantic and such. . . well, I guess we forgot the whole "it is still in West Africa" part because I can’t say it was all that "pleasant"!  If we had taken a trotro it would have been around a 5 hour ride; the train took 11!  Plus add people chomping on chicken bones all around us, the battle of music being played loudly on several people's phones and the general inconsiderate pushing nature of west african transit. That all being said, it was not "pleasant" as the book said but rather long and arduous (Mo: much like a Monty Python anything). Then when we arrived in the Bobo station we had to fight to get off the train because people mobbed it trying to get on (the train continues to Ivory Coast).  I had to punch and push my way through the crowd to get free (good thing dad taught me how to throw them elbows in soccer!).  It was actually kinda scary, I was on the steps debarking when a flood of people was released and they all came running at me.  I went to take the last step to reach the ground and they pushed me back on my butt and started to trample over me (Mo was still on the train trying to get our bag) so I threw ‘bows and started to punch people in order to free myself and stand up. I waited a good five minutes for Mo to get free of the train and apparently he had a similar experience in the cab of the train (one guy who was also trying to leave was attempted to crawl through him while the flood entering was pushing him from the other direction as well).  I would not recommend train travel in West Africa!

That being said we ate some veggie pizza when we arrived at our hotel and watched 90210 and Dawson's Creek dubbed in French(two shows I wouldn’t normally watch in the US, I think I actually used the word "excited" when I saw what was on!). Bobo had a couple of supermarkets nearby our hotel and so we had (top left pic) hummus and baba in a can (not too bad when you are craving them), Kracks (aka non Frito-Lay approved Pringles), and sachet milk (you can get anything in a sachet here!).

Bobo was really cool and we did “touristy” things there like go to a museum which was described as being full of masks and information on local tribes, but had a visiting “special” exhibition that was more about Switzerland than anything else (did you know they use masks in celebrations in Switerland?). But they did have permanent examples of different housing styles (below the top left photo is of me and Mo sitting in a Fulani hut). We also went to a woman’s cooperative where they turn gross plastic bags (which are off-puttingly referred to as “rubbers” here. “Yes, Madame, I would like a rubber for my food,” or “Please put your bananas in this rubber,”) into fabric which is then sewn into handbags. Pretty cool.

So now back to Ghana. For my mom, I have included some pics of our house (complete with goats and everything!), but let me explain. Working clockwise from the top left, our beautiful pink house. Next is the sink and stove set up where the ants decided to move their home that time. Next (bottom right) is the hallway. Bottom center is the bathroom/toilet rooms and the big green container is full so that when the water “is finished” (aka, our connection is cut) we can still flush the toilet and wash our pretty faces. Finally, Bottom left is our living room with is currently functioning also as an office, lab, and bedroom (it has become so hot at night that we now sleep on the living room floor).  

The next pics are of Mo with a goat (no surprise), a stall in Bongo market, and the bats that apparently live in the trees shading the market (makes me want to wash my produce a little more carefully now that I have noticed them living up there).

Below are some of my favorite Bongo moments. I have started to take weaving lessons (as you can see) and my teacher (Apuko, pictured with me) is really nice. I love being in their workspace and just listening to the chatter of women (even though I don’t know what is being said). There is something about the rhythm and tone of a group of women hanging out that is just so comforting! Then, I was able to help some women out in Feo plaster one of the local houses and, I guess as a result, was challenged to a dance off (and yes, I was “served”)

The day of plastering ended with drinking pito with the cheif (no surprise there) and listening to this “small boy” play the local guitar with such awe-inspiring skill. Two strings, a few bottle caps, half a calabash and a dead goat are all he requires for a 45 minute show. He’s making ours as we speak.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

As you read this, Katie and I will have passed three whole days since our last official day of fieldwork. After meeting with the many helpful community members who directed us to the functioning boreholes, we set out by ourselves to what Katie believed would be a representative sampling of the non-functioning boreholes. It was on these excursions that we realized a few things: GPS-enabled knowledge of these sites and your relative location to them means nothing and will never supplant local knowledge; we were smart not to have done these samples on the days when we were led around by our guides since they would have tired of our existence and left, or killed us out of boredom; that we have spent way too much time together without taking a break. In reference to that last bit of wisdom, let it be known that if ever you decide to have a public argument (inasmuch as these things are actually “decided” upon), do not do it when 50+ people with a meager grasp of English are tending to your every word. Thanks to us, many a Ghanaian were blessed with the knowledge of words I am too sheepish to mention at this juncture (though I’m not at all sheepish about typing them, as you all well know).

So yes, we are finished collecting the samples (YAY!), and now comes time to relax. This Saturday we will plod the weary route toward Ouagadougou (which in Mossi means “forget about Ghana, the only food worth eating is in Burkina, bitches”) for another much-needed break from the travails of our stay in Ghana. And as weary as I’m sure we are sounding fleshed out on computer screens the world over (all five of them), let it be known that there is still much work to be done, mostly on Katie’s part.

As for me, I was able meet one of three lifetime goals , the first of which was realized almost ten years ago when I made someone puke out of pure exhaustion (okay, maybe the carton of milk consumed a few minutes beforehand played a crucial role, but so too did the calisthenic torture I doled out, dammit). A few days ago, as Katie was choosing from a book loaded with all the available patterns for this one local weaver, a bunch of kids decided to come over and play a game favored among the youth (the older ones love, with all their heart, “Bicycle Chase”): “Stand Around and Look at the White People Until One of Them Moves at Which Point You Should Run Away and Not Let Them Touch You Because if You Do They Will Rip Your Face Off and Eat Your Insides.” That’s a rough translation from Fra Fra, and one based solely on the children’s reactions to our presence, but I will say that while enjoying a beer one time with one of our guides, some children who gathered to watch us drink were told that if they didn’t leave us alone we would come out and chop off their heads. No lie. After that, we never really wondered why kids were somewhat terrified of us.
Anyway, having had a good day, I was willing to play the aforementioned game with these kids, and I hid behind the corner of the building and chased them across the street. Everyone got away except one, who tripped trying climb out of a shallow ditch. It was like something out of the movies: she looked back at me over her shoulder, began trembling, and the tears commenced. Now, most of you who know me will agree that I hate children, especially since they poop and pee all over the place and can’t earn a living and all, but I would never hurt one, and so I dropped the monster fa├žade, stooped down to pick her up, and told her, in english, that I would never hurt her. It did no good. As soon as she was in my arms, she stiffened up, looked me straight in the eye, and yelled “BLAH BLAH BLAH,” which I took to mean either “my dad will kill you if you hurt me,” or “you’d better put me down,” or “I’m gonna fuck you up, asshole,” and given that she was no older than 5 or 6, I was undeterred in my placation of her anger. Until she peed on me.

I didn’t know what was happening until I was soaked from my hand to my elbow, and for those of you who have handled babies before, that’s about 10 gallons of piss. It was all over my shorts and looked as if I were the one who peed, but all I could do was laugh, and all Katie could do was laugh at me and call me a moron. “I’ve been peed on,” I said as I returned the girl back on the ground. I stepped over her as she lay there supine from the fright, and not until I got back across the road from her did she get up and run away. I never even got to thank her, for how many of you can actually say that you’ve scared the piss out of someone.

Some pictures: